A friend posted on Facebook asking people to tell about their plans for schooling their children and how they came to those decisions. She already knew that we’d decided to homeschool and many of the reasons we chose this path, but she seemed interested in opening a discussion, so I put my opinion out there.
Some of our reasons to homeschool:
- It’s more academically rigorous and doesn’t have the negative social bits my friends with public school kids have to deal with (bullying, cliques, advertising, etc).
- It suits my daughter’s temperament better. She’s socially anxious and she’s introverted, so she needs a lot of time to decompress after social interactions. I worry that an entire day surrounded by kids with no alone time would leave her too drained to learn well.
- Homeschooling gives us flexibility, both in academics (choice of curriculum to match her learning style, moving at her pace rather than pacing to the other 35 kids in her class) and in time (she loves to play her flute. Homeschooling gives her the time to go to her lessons and to practice).
- Her social interactions are in smaller groups in close proximity to me or another trusted adult, allowing her to practice her social skills in a safe environment with parental backup, if necessary, to help her figure out how to deal with a confusing or intense situation.
- She gets to have more intimate relationships with both her peers and adults besides her parents.
One of the replies to my friend’s query included this, which I felt was directed at me since I was the only homeschooler who’d given my reasons for going the homeschool route:
I think there is somewhat of a danger in catering your child’s social environment to what makes them feel comfortable. As we all know, when you hit the real world it doesn’t change for you, you need to have developed the skills to adapt to it.
I buck the norm on a daily basis and have for years, but that doesn’t mean I always feel confident about it. When I read this, I got a little tingle of fear in my chest: Am I messing my daughter up socially by homeschooling her? She’s anxious and uncomfortable in situations where there are lots of people—maybe I would serve her better by making her deal with these situations from an early age?
I talked it over with my husband.
“There are those people who think that if you attend to your child’s every need from infancy, they’ll grow up needing to be coddled all the time,” he said. “Then there are people who think that if you attend to your child’s needs quickly and consistently, you’re programming them to expect that the world will provide for their needs. As a result, these kids experience the world as a safe place, and they’re more likely to be bold and independent later on. I think it’s the same thing with social interactions in school. If you’ve got a kid who’s anxious in social situations, you could argue that frequent exposure to uncomfortable situations will make them better at dealing with them. But you could also argue, that if their only social interactions are fraught with anxiety and confusion and feelings of inadequacy, they might choose to avoid social situations in the future.”
“And with meeting infant needs, at least, the research supports just what you’re saying,” I commented. “I don’t know about the school-aged social stuff.”
“You know what I think?” asked my scientist husband. “I don’t really care what the research says. I want to do what feels right for our kids.”
Have I mentioned that I love this guy?
We went on to talk about how, so far, our methods seem to be benefitting our daughter. She’s always wanted us near her. Until she was three years old, I don’t think she spent more than a couple of minutes at a stretch playing by herself. She needed us to play with her all of the time. My husband reminded me about a woman at our church in California who was really concerned about how “clingy” our daughter appeared to be, and how we were nervous but continued providing for her needs in the way that felt right to us.
And things gradually shifted. Now she’s my kid who acts out stories for hours at a time by herself. She’s confident in herself and her abilities. We let her tell us when she was ready for us to back off. And she knows that we’re here for her when she needs us because we showed her that through our actions from the moment she was born.
We also talked about how I’ve always been timid and anxious in social situations, and how rather than helping me learn to adapt and become more comfortable socially, if anything, a childhood spent in public school made me less enthusiastic about socializing. For me, at least, school was not the place to learn about healthy social interactions. As an adult, I’ve done a lot of de-programming that’s helped me learn new social skills, but I get all uptight even just considering a “moms’ night out” with my friends. Actually doing it leaves me exhausted. If it weren’t for a fear of appearing antisocial and a desire for connection, I doubt I’d go out at all.
Yes, as an adult in the “real world,” the rules don’t change for me. But being tossed into the intensity of public school from a very young age didn’t teach me how to deal with world as it is. It just gave me more reason to fear it. It took me years to figure out that what happens in school is not a good indicator of what the “real world” is like.
We want to try a different path for our daughter and see if easing her in helps her feel more socially confident and happy.
When my husband and I finished our conversation, my confidence was renewed. We know our kids. We know our options. We do our research. And we’re making the best choices for our unique family situation.